City of Kzoo leaves Southwest Michigan First after Chatfield hire

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kalamazoo City Commission has voted to withdraw from Southwest Michigan First Monday night.

The move comes a week after former Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield was named the group’s CEO.

Commissioners voiced concerns about Chatfield’s record on diversity and inclusion, saying the move is more symbolic than it is financial. They also questioned his qualifications to lead the economic development group since he has no professional experience in development and no ties to Southwest Michigan.

The vote to withdraw was unanimous.

“In this moment, we need to act and show leadership to show what our true community values are. To me, this is a step we can take that’s not punitive in the nature that’s going to harm a project or a person. It’s going to make it loud and clear how we as a city and as leaders of a city feel about something that just doesn’t align well with that we need in this community,” Kalamazoo City Commissioner Chris Praedel said.

One of Southwest Michigan First’s most visible projects is a downtown arena in Kalamazoo. Legislation signed into law last session allows Kalamazoo County to put in a hotel tax to fund an arena. SWMF needs the commission to sign off on the tax before it can be implemented.

City Manager Jim Ritsema says the city contributes about $10,000 to the group every year.

The commission says it’s not opposed to rejoining and wants to see the group take steps to diversify their leadership board and push for inclusion legislation.

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